How flexible work practice builds stronger leaders and more effective teams

 

In the second of our series exploring the impact of coronavirus on leadership and teamwork, we look at the benefits of flexible work practices and how this will ultimately make us stronger in the long term.

 

So much has changed across the world in the past week, and along with most others I am still settling into the new normal of working from home.

As I said in my last blog, during this time it is vital we hold onto our sense of community, with a particular focus on looking after vulnerable people in society. Of the many positive stories emerging from this current crisis, my suburb has now formed a group to maintain connection and to help each other with whatever is needed. Each street has appointed a ‘leader’ and yes, I’ve volunteered for our street, with the aid of my 18-year-old son!

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and scared, change does that, but there is always a silver lining. Just as we see stories of hope and kindness emerging throughout our communities, there are many positives that leaders can build with their teams during this time. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that a more flexible attitude towards work practices, whether it be working remotely or otherwise, can lead to stronger workplaces.

It builds trust

Trust is vital for leaders to foster; research has shown inter-team trust is linked to team performance.

Yet in running our leadership programs, I’ve noticed many leaders struggle with trust.

This can be a reason some employers are reticent about remote working. Instead of thinking flexibly and measuring an employee’s worth by their output, they want to maintain the familiar sense of control by physically seeing their employees. This outdated mind set is so limiting with so many researched advantages available for teams with flexible work arrangements.

I’m reminded of a time in one of our leadership training courses, when a woman struggled to fully trust her team. Kylie, the equine member of the team, picked up on this instantly and the resulting disfunction meant they struggled to work together. While reflecting on this at the end of the program, she recognised that she had never admitted to herself – let alone others – that she had trust issues, until highlighted by a 500kg horse.

Often, overcoming issues with trust will only happen when individuals are pushed out of their comfort zone. For many leaders, COVID-19 could be their Kylie.

It makes us question the status quo

Flexible working has much discussed for the past few years, particularly as we look to improve female representation in the workforce. Having the ability to vary hours and work locations can be a game-changer in managing carer responsibilities.

Workplace Gender Equality Agency data from 2018/19 showed while just over 70% of Australian employers have a formal flexible working policy in place, only one in four of these organisations provides manager training on flexible work and only one in 20 sets targets for employee engagement in flexible work.

Hopefully, our current work-from-home-if-you-can situation will improve these numbers and help us all to realise the benefits of jobs with flexible hours for our work/life balance!

Additionally, what an opportunity to familiarise employees with new technologies available  to streamline the communication process. It may also help us reassess our need for unnecessary travel, which will have a positive effect on the environment, not to mention our bottom line.

When I think of flexibility, flexible mindsets is also vital for strong leaders. What an opportunity leaders have to encourage and role model innovative thinking for their teams.

We need leadership and team development more than ever right now, so personally, I’m looking forward to finding new ways of reaching clients, one of which will be running my courses online. I’m also using this as a way to fast-track the launch of my virtual reality app, which has been in the pipeline for a while. Exciting times!

It brings us together

When I work at home, there’s always an animal or two in the background. My colleague was mortified the other day when she realised a pile of unfolded washing was visible during a video conference.

I don’t know about you, but seeing my colleagues in their environment, with their partners, kids, pets (or laundry!) is endearing. Don’t worry if your kids come in halfway through a video conference. In fact, it normalises the image of Mums and Dads successfully juggling kids, home life and career.

What we should be worrying about instead is each other. Check in with colleagues all the time to make they are doing well.

It highlights the value of being present

The downside of being able to work whenever you want is it can be harder to switch off. Working from home doesn’t have to mean always working.

The other day, I posted a video of my cats and dogs playing together. It is very cute and funny, and a welcome distraction from all the bad news. Yet I there is a deeper lesson here, because animals don’t think about the past or the future; they see joy in the now.

My horses remind me of this too. Once, I was running a new course with one of my most easy-going horses, Opal. I’m used to her and I working seamlessly together, so was surprised when she wasn’t listening to me in the way she normally would, and certainly wasn’t taking my lead.  I realised I had been so preoccupied with how the new course would go that I wasn’t present with her. She had sensed this and disengaged with me. What a great lesson for me!

The best way to draw the line between work, family/friends and leisure time is by trying to be present in whatever you’re doing.

What has remote working taught you? Let us know in the comments. And to subscribe to more updates and leadership tips from Leading Edge Life Skills, please comment below to ask to be added or email info@leadingedgelifeskills.com.au

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